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The Western Cape’s R1.2bn plan to get learning and teaching #BackOnTrack

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David Maynier is the Western Cape Minister of Education.

The Western Cape government is investing R1.2-billion into our #BackOnTrack programme over the next three years – a big, bold intervention to reverse Covid learning losses and improve learning outcomes.

The electricity crisis is currently at the forefront of everyone’s minds and rolling blackouts seem to be all that anyone is talking about. But there is a far more dire crisis that our country is facing: the full-blown learning crisis caused by the Covid pandemic, extended school closures and rotating timetables.

The pandemic is over, but the effect of the pandemic is not over.

Earlier this year, the Western Cape Education Department released our 2022 systemic test results for mathematics and reading, which confirmed that during the pandemic, learning outcomes fell off a cliff.

We simply cannot say that a child is receiving quality education if more than half of our Grade 3, 6 and 9 learners cannot achieve the basic pass score for mathematics and reading.

And the shocking results of the Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study 2021 (Pirls), released last week, confirmed that learners across our country are facing the same challenge.

According to the Pirls 2021 data, 81% of our country’s Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning. This is, quite simply, an education disaster. We have to act, and we have to act decisively, and we have to act in a way that has an impact in order to deal with the learning crisis.

This is why the Western Cape government is investing a massive R1.2-billion into our #BackOnTrack programme over the next three years – which is a big, bold intervention to reverse Covid learning losses and improve learning outcomes so that our children have a better future in the province.

The programme marks a big change from “business as usual” in our schools. The scale of the programme is unprecedented, with 333 schools selected to receive targeted support based on the systemic test results, in addition to the 1,100 schools already receiving extra support in the foundation phase since 2022.

The new schools selected will identify 126,000 learners, 8,980 teachers and 28,000 parents targeted for focused participation, in addition to the 310,000 learners and 10,000 teachers already participating in the foundation phase.

All school phases are covered, with all grades in the foundation phase and Grade 4 in the intermediate phase, grades 7 and 8 in the senior phase and grades 10 and 12 in the further education and training phase targeted. All stakeholders in learning are being supported simultaneously, recognising that we can all make a contribution towards improving learning outcomes.

We’re using a variety of teaching, learning and support methods, both in person and online. For example, we will be taking some of our Grade 4, 7 and 8 teachers out of class every 10 days for targeted support. And our Grade 10 and 12 teachers will participate in biweekly online afternoon sessions with expert presenters in a wide range of subjects.

We will be applying tried and tested methods in grades where they have not previously been used. For example, where Saturday classes were previously used for matrics in preparation for their exams, grades 4, 7 and 8 will now have #BackOnTrack classes on Saturdays.

The #BackOnTrack programme complements and builds on existing programmes. We are entrenching previously successful interventions that have been shown to work, including proven eLearning platforms like the Maths Curriculum Online programme in the foundation phase, while introducing new ways of teaching and learning.

And the allocation of extra time for mathematics and reading within the school day in the foundation phase, which we piloted in the Western Cape last year, has now been recommended across the country and will continue for our youngest learners.

The programme is designed to incorporate feedback and change over three years. We have invited principals and teachers of the participating schools to let us know what works, what needs more work, and how we can build the best possible interventions we can.

The programme will be closely monitored through the #BackOnTrack war room, the first of which was held on Friday, 12 May 2023. Every two weeks, officials from across the province will provide updates and feedback, and work together to resolve challenges as we move through the programme.

A tremendous amount of work has gone into getting this massive programme off the ground. Principals and teachers have been briefed, and teacher training sessions have begun. The reception from the principals and teachers in the run-up to the launch has been outstanding, and we look forward to their continued support and feedback.

Our first extra classes have already been held, with nearly 20,000 Grade 4, 7, 8, 10 and 12 learners receiving extra academic support across the province. 

We invite all stakeholders to support us on this journey and make the choice to invest in our children’s futures. Let us all work together to get our children #BackOnTrack. DM

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